“Sorry, I have a brain injury.
It became a joke. I used it to excuse mistakes I made, things I forgot that I should’ve remembered, references nobody got, words that came out of my mouth in the wrong order — really, nearly any random thing I did that made people raise an eyebrow.
I have a brain injury.
That is, until one day someone spoke up and called me out for being insensitive, and politely informed me that real people have brain injuries, and brain injuries are serious things — not something you pop off as a joke because you were 15 minutes late or forgot the name of a song.
I never used the phrase again. Not because it was an insensitive joke — because it was true. The fact it had become a joke was perhaps a defense mechanism. In the months-long recovery, I was self-conscious of the mistakes I made, the holes in my memory, the difficulties I had communicating with others.
The day someone tried to correct me for being insensitive, I realized I’d recovered enough to “pass.” I no longer needed the crutch of constantly reminding those around me — those who knew, knew; those who didn’t wouldn’t think anything was amiss. For all they could tell, I was just like them.
That moment was a bit bittersweet. No longer was I struggling to overcome something that should’ve killed me. No longer was I a hero or some sort of miracle. No longer was I an exception. As far as anyone could see, I was just like anyone else. I should’ve been happy, but I wasn’t. When you spend eight months of your life striving to reach some mythical middle line where people no longer think something’s wrong with you, where you’re embarrassed to be with yourself in public — achieving that goal turns out not to be all that grand.
Four years ago today, at approximately 2:30 a.m., I was dead. Revived, I died again. Revived once more, I remained in a deep and persistent coma, unresponsive to anything. Days drug on. After nearly a week, I awakened. Statistically speaking, 99 percent of those who sustain a brain injury of similar severity die. Of those who survive, 99 percent can no longer live independently. They’ve typically had multiple brain surgeries. I have had none, but that makes my injury no less severe. Statistically speaking, I am a miracle.
As a reward, I get to live the rest of my life with everybody else assuming I’m “normal.” In the months following my return home, I often found myself wishing I’d broken a leg or something — anything so people would understand I was debilitated. People don’t see what they can’t see.
I have a brain injury.”